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Decompression. If you’ve heard this word in a doctor’s office then…

21 Jul

You might have had or currently have a herniated disc. Herniation is the general term describing the protrusion or bulging or an organ invading a space that is not physiologically normal. There are many different types of hernia, many of which are invaginations of a certain organs, as in a hiatal hernia involving invagination of the stomach into the lower portion of the esophogus leading to gastric reflux or heartburn. There is also sports hernias, that usually involves a weakening of the abdominal wall. The kind of hernia that involves “decompression” is most likely a herniated disc. Intervertebral discs are considered shock absorbers for the spine. But though they are analogous to the rubber on the soles of your shoe, they are more important than that.

Besides protecting the spine from bone on bone contact, they can also affect nerve function as the dorsal roots exit the spinal cord. When a disc herniation (bulge, protrusion, or expulsion; the last being a possible surgical candidate) weakens it allows the two vertebra above and below to approximate. This obviously leads to reduced function and movement as well as irritation and inflammation at that level of the spine.

Not so obvious, is that this approximation of the two vertebrae lead to a smaller opening created by the bony effects of the superior facet over the inferior facet. This smaller opening called the intervetebral foramen or IVF is crucial to the electrical output of the nerve fibers that fire at a rate that makes the blinking of an eye seem stuck in slow motion. The reduction in nerve firing is like closing three lanes of a four lane highway… on a Friday…in rush hour. There are messages trying to be sent to the muscles, but are unable to get where they are supposed to go on time and so begin to irritate the surrounding musculature and pain fibers.

A slightly herniated disc may not affect a person at all, but the same size protrusion can lead to intense pain in another person, so size of the bulge only tells us so much. What is more revealing is the patients sysmptoms, how much pain they are feeling and the quality. A good pain management doctor or chiropractor can tell what ails a person just by how the pain is described because bone pain, muscle pain, and nerve pain are all different in the nature in which they are percieved, but the right kind of questions will pin point the answer right away.

If you have had an accident recently, the herniated disc may be the result of trauma. If you didn’t have any corresponding accident then the condition possible may be called chronic (which just means that the problem is ongoing for several months, and has not healed up properly leaving residual pain, aching, and soreness).

Decompression is the act of taking away (if only for a moment) the stress of gravity on the spinal structure and reversing the constant downward pressure of the weight of the upper torso and head. This pulling motion on the spine can help to reintroduce much needed fluids into the vertebral discs (which are kind of like sponges that soak up nutrients in the form of fluid, and expel fluid when compressed).

Having an active lifestyle helps to protect you from these types of injuries, as well as having a proportionate torso to your lower body (think Mike Tyson). Decompression is a much safer option when dealing with herniated discs than drugs and surgery (with exceptions being a fully blown or expulsed disc). It can help to take the pressure off those nerves that are affected, much like taking your foot off the water hose.

There are many types of of decompression and hundreds of products and companies. Choosing one that suits you is the job of your chiropractor.

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